Life lesson from Eleanor Roosevelt
During WWII, in 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt wanted to travel to the Pacific War Zones and visit wounded American soldiers. Her trip met resistance from top Navy brass. Initially, Admiral Halsey regarded her trip as a nuisance and insisted on surrounding her with so much protection that she felt cut off from the ordinary soldiers she had come to see. However, Eleanor’s indomitable energy and kindness staggered the mind of everyone she met.
When Eleanor Roosevelt visited the wounded soldiers, it wasn’t just a wave and a smile, then on to the next hospital. Eleanor spoke directly to each soldier, comforted them with the words a mother would use with her son, took messages back to their loved ones, and kissed them on the cheek. The soldiers loved her maternal compassion. Admiral Halsey said “It was a sight I will never forget.”
Halsey later admitted “I was ashamed of my original surliness. She alone had accomplished more good than any other person, or any other group of civilians who had passed through my area.”
Eleanor Roosevelt exceeded everyone’s expectations and her tour was a unqualified success.
And, as Abraham Lincoln would say . . . that reminds me of a story.
I had a similar “eureka” moment as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras.
I was assigned to work in a small farming community in Northern Honduras. I had dreamed of working in a developing country for many years. However, my experience turned out to be a complete disaster.
Honduran Dream Job Turns Sour
I started off full of enthusiasm, but within a week I came down with food poisoning and was in the hospital for 7 days. Upon returning to my site, I felt loneliness, frustration in communicating with the local people, and, I was physically exhausted from wolfpack-like attacks of monster sized voracious insects that were using my body as a landing pad and pin cushion. Internally, I had self-doubts about whether or not I could cut the mustard and actually do my job. I felt depressed and it showed in my uninspired work.
One day I was walking from my village out to visit a farmer. The stream that I had to cross was being blocked by a hostile looking bull.
Two ladies and several children were standing by looking at the bull.
I asked one lady, “Que pasa?” (What’s going on?)
She said, “El toro esta enojado. No nos deja pasar.” (The bull is mad. He won’t let us pass.)
I looked into the eyes of the bull and we had a “mind meld.” I could feel his fury and his desire to flip me like a pancake if I tried cross that river.
Even though I knew the insects would have a feast on my legs, like a ravished high school football team at an all-you-can-eat KFC buffet, I jumped over a fence and crossed the river through an adjoining field so the bull couldn’t get me.
When I got home that night. I found I had mosquito and chigger (tiny, super powered mites that burro under your skin and itch worse than mosquitoes) bites all over my body. I could barely move for several days which made me more depressed.
I remembered the time I suffered a serious knee injury in middle school. I missed a month of classes and when I returned, I was overwhelmed by my homework. I doubted if I could ever catch up. I began to think I was not smart enough. Fortunately for me, my American History teacher taught me how to outline the text book chapters before each test and to put to more energy into my studies. I had to work twice as hard as the other kids, in order to catch up.
I learned that to succeed in achieving goals, I have to do more than anyone else, show super enthusiasm, and throw myself into my job with reckless abandon.
I applied the same principal in Honduras. I determined that I was not going to give up. Instead, I was going to work twice as hard as anyone else to be successful.
In doing so, I overcame my obstacles and I came to love my job and the people I worked with. I even stayed a third year in Honduras to continue my work with the Peace Corps.
Action steps to succeed in the face of obstacles:
- Resolve to pay any price to reach a goal.
- Work twice as hard as anyone else.
- Move forward with unbridled enthusiasm and reckless abandon.